Tillerson signs $6.4bn funding package with Jordan

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Khaled Elfiqi/Pool photo via AP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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Tillerson signs $6.4bn funding package with Jordan

AMMAN: The US’ work on a new Middle East peace plan is “fairly well advanced,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday during a visit to Jordan to sign a five-year $6.4 billion aid package.
Tillerson said President Donald Trump would decide when to announce the peace plan. But he provided no details on the initiative, which comes amid deep Palestinian skepticism about US intentions.
The US infuriated even its Arab allies in December when Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiated the move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not cooperate with the US in its efforts as a mediator.
“I have seen the (administration’s peace) plan... It’s been under development for a number of months. I have consulted with them on the plan, identified areas that we feel need further work. I will say it’s fairly well advanced...” Tillerson said.
There has been little detail on the plan so far. Officials told Reuters in December it would deal with all major issues, including Jerusalem, borders, security, the future of Jewish settlements on occupied land and the fate of Palestinian refugees, and would also urge Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to provide significant financial support to the Palestinians.
The plan is being crafted by a team led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, both of whom have traveled to key regional capitals since the Trump administration came to office.
Palestinians have grown increasingly concerned that any plan Trump unveils will shortchange them, a fear exacerbated by his move on Jerusalem, which upended decades of US policy that the status of the ancient city must be decided in negotiations.
Jerusalem is home to sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Jordanian King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites, making Amman particularly sensitive to any changes of status there. 
The king has warned that Trump’s decision could undermine stability and fuel radicalism.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi reiterated on Wednesday that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the “only solution we believe can work.”
The Trump administration has said it would back a two-state solution if the parties agreed to it.
Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that backed a UN resolution calling for Washington to reverse its Jerusalem decision. Jordan backed the resolution.
But the Trump administration has courted King Abdullah, a moderate pro-Western Arab leader whose kingdom has long upheld US interests in the region.
On Tuesday, Tillerson met the king at his residence where the two emphasized strong US-Jordanian ties.
Commenting on the memorandum of understanding signed for $6.375 billion in aid, the US State Department said: “(It) highlights the pivotal role Jordan plays in helping foster and safeguard regional stability and supports US objectives such as the global campaign to defeat ISIS (Daesh), counter-terrorism cooperation, and economic development.”
Conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq have damaged Jordan’s economy, forcing it to borrow heavily from external and domestic sources. Jordan has been an important part of the US-led coalition battling Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Tillerson is also expected this week to visit Turkey, with which US ties have become badly strained over Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, regarded by Ankara as a terrorist group.
Tillerson said Washington had to “find a way to continue to work in the same direction.”
He also expressed concern over Saturday’s confrontation between Israel and “Iranian assets” in Syria. Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 jet after it bombed a site used by Iran-backed forces in Syria.
Tillerson said Iran should withdraw its forces and militias from Syria, where Tehran backs President Bashar Assad.
Responding to the comments, a senior Iranian official, Ali Akbar Velayati, said Iran’s military presence in Syria was legitimate and based on an invitation from Damascus. He called on US forces to leave Syria.


Syrian Kurdish-led council visits Damascus for new talks

Updated 40 min 3 sec ago
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Syrian Kurdish-led council visits Damascus for new talks

  • A delegation including members of the US-backed SDF held talks with Damascus earlier this month
  • The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to President Bashar Assad’s government

BEIRUT: The political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been to Damascus for a second round of talks with the state, the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said on Tuesday.
A delegation including members of the US-backed SDF, which controls roughly a quarter of Syria, held talks with Damascus earlier this month, their first declared visit to the capital.
The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to President Bashar Assad’s government, as they seek to negotiate a political deal that keeps their autonomy within Syria.
The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, which has mostly avoided conflict with Assad and says its aim has been to secure Kurdish rights rather than topple the government.
This has set them apart from rebel factions fighting to topple Assad since 2011, which have now been defeated in much of the territory they once held.
The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) went for new talks on local administation and decentralization, Al-Watan cited its co-chair Riad Darar as saying on Tuesday.
“All the discussions happening now are ... to find out the other side’s point of view,” he said. The talks “need a lot of reflection to make decisions, and so the matter was left to other meetings.”
Such negotiations could raise new questions for US policy in Syria, where the US military has deployed into SDF territory during the battle against Islamic State.
The SDF seized swathes of land with US help, though Washington opposes their aim of regional autonomy. The region they control spreads across much of northern and eastern Syria, rich in farmland, oil, and water.
Damascus says the US forces are occupiers. For the first time, Assad said in May that he was “opening doors” for talks with the SDF, but also threatened force and said the Americans would leave one way or another.